Douglas County Law Library
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Lawrence, Kansas 66044
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This Month in Legal History Archive

This page contains archived entries from the current year's "This Month in Legal History" column and links to the archived entries from previous years. The column features a different event from the history of law and jurisprudence of Douglas County, Kansas, that occurred during the month. It is published monthly in the Douglas County Law Library E-Mail Newsletter and on the This Month In Legal History page of this website. Entries will be added to this page, most recent at the bottom, following the end of the month in which they were published. Archived entries from previous years can be accessed by clicking on one of the links at the bottom of this page.

January 1859 - John Brown brings fugitive slaves into Douglas County, Kansas Territory - On January 24, 1848, gold was discovered at Sutter's Mill in Alta California, the western part of the larger Mexican territory of California. Just nine days later, on February 2, 1848, the Mexican-American War ended with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. One of the results of the treaty was that the United States acquired ownership of Alta California from Mexico. When news of the discovery of gold reached the wider world, it set off the California Gold Rush, and by 1850, there was a movement to bring Alta California into the Union as the new state of California. Prior to this time, new states had been brought into the Union in pairs, one that allowed slavery and one that did not, in an attempt to keep Congress balanced over the divisive issue of slavery. This was the spirit of the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which brought the Territory of Missouri into the Union as a slave state and Maine into the Union as a free state. In 1820, there had been no free territory to bring into the Union to balance Missouri, so land belonging to Massachusetts known as the District of Maine was converted into the Territory of Maine so that it could become a free state at the same time Missouri became a slave state. In 1850, there was no land to convert into a slave territory that could be admitted to the Union as a slave state to correct the unbalancing of Congress that admitting California to the Union as a free state would cause, so there initially was talk of splitting California into two, bringing in the two sections as individual states, with a North California that would be a free state and a South California that would be a slave state, thereby keeping Congress balanced. This option did not get very far, and the movement advanced to bring California into the Union undivided as a free state. In order to overcome this potential diminishing of the influence of the slave holding powers in the nation, a series of five acts favoring the slaveholding interests in the country were proposed by Congress. They were known collectively as the Compromise of 1850. The acts were passed, and California was admitted to the Union as the 31st state on September 9, 1850. Nine days later, on September 18, 1850, President Millard Fillmore duly signed into law one of the acts comprising the Compromise of 1850, a new Fugitive Slave Act. Prior to the 1850 Act, the capture and return of slaves who had run away from bondage in the United States was covered by the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793. There had been many challenges to the Act in the fifty-seven years sits its enactment, and the slaveholding interests in the nation had always felt that it was too weak and that enforcement of it had been far too feeble, especially in the northern free states. They had long sought a toughening up of their rights to retrieve fugitive slaves. The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 was what they had desired. The new act required that all fugitive slaves be returned to their masters. It required that Federal marshals and all other officials actively seek out, capture, and return to their owners any fugitive slave, from anywhere in the United States, regardless of the laws of the state in which the fugitive was found. Failure to do so made the official liable to a $1,000 fine. In addition, any person who aided a runaway slave in any manner was subject to imprisonment for six months in a Federal penitentiary and a $1,000 fine. This strengthening of the laws for returning fugitive slaves was a blow to abolitionist, causing many to question whether their old way of doing things, trying to convince the populace of the evils of slavery which would lead to it eventually being abolished, might not succeed, and that they might have to do more in the future than just talk and publish against it. Action might need to be taken. The stage was set when four years later, the Kansas-Nebraska Act was passed and signed into law on May 30, 1854. The Act allowed the decision as to whether Kansas Territory would be a free state or a slave state to be left up to a vote of the residents of Kansas, something that changed a stipulation included in the Missouri Compromise. Abolitionists became more enraged, and determined not to let Kansas become slave. Many came to the Territory to make Kansas free. They ran headlong into southerners who were coming into Kansas to make it slave, and violence erupted. The trouble eventually brought the abolitionist John Brown to Kansas. Although the Territory had seen significant violence, by the latter part of 1858, the Free State cause was in the ascendancy and the violence had all but ended. On December 19, 1858, Brown received a request from Jim Daniels, a slave who had been allowed to come into Kansas from his home in Vernon County, Missouri. Daniels was in Kansas ostensibly to sell brooms, but in reality, was seeking help for himself and his family. Daniels asked Brown to go into Missouri and rescue his wife and children who were about to be sold and sent away south. The next day, December 20th, Brown took around two dozen men and traveled to Vernon County. They divided into two groups and raided the homesteads of three men, James Lawrence, Isaac Larue, and David Cruise. The group led by Brown liberated five slaves from the Lawrence property, including Jim Daniels' family. The other group liberated one slave from Cruse, who resisted and was killed, and five from Larue. In addition to freeing the eleven slaves, wagons, livestock, and other supplies were taken, the wagons to transport the newly freed slaves and the livestock and other supplies to feed the liberators and the liberated. Brown, his men, and their passengers made their way back into Kansas and then headed north. Because of the Fugitive Slave Act, the escapees would not be safe anywhere short of Canada. Although it was winter, the weather had been unusually mild with frequent rain and little snow. Because of the need to avoid detection by the authorities, they traveled by night and hid by day, so despite the favorable weather, progress was slow. Most of the men who had gone into Missouri with Brown had left the party by the time they camped near the town of Garnett, Kansas Territory. A baby boy was born there to Daniels' wife, and she named her new freeborn son John Brown Daniels. They continued north along the Lane Trail, which had originally been established in 1856 as a north-south route far enough in from the Missouri Border to allow safer travel for free state immigrants into Kansas Territory. The Trail also served as a route on the Underground Railroad from Missouri, through Kansas, and on to safety in the north. The group entered Douglas County, and arrived at the homestead of Joel and Emily Grover, outside Lawrence, Kansas Territory, on January 24, 1859. The Grovers took the party in and sheltered them in their barn, thereby violating the Fugitive Slave Act themselves. This was nothing new for the couple, as they were conductors on the Underground Railroad and had taken in refugees before. After staying for four days, the party left early on January 28th, and traveled to Topeka, where they were taken into several "trusted anti-slavery homes." They then left Topeka and continuing their journey on north. The decision had been made that they were far enough along on the journey that they could travel by daylight, and they continued on to near Holton, Kansas Territory, arriving in the afternoon of January 29th. Two deputy United States Marshals discovered that they were in the area, and went to round up a force of proslavery men to come and capture the refugees. Brown got word of this, and sent a request back to Topeka for assistance. When Brown's message got to Topeka, the Free State men rallied there and prepared for the journey north to help. As they needed to move in secret so that the government officials in town would not get wind of it, their preparations took quite some time. They eventually set out, traveling all night, and arrived at Brown's position in the afternoon of January 31st. They found Brown readying the wagon. When asked what he intended to do, he responded "Cross the creek and move north," … there is no use to talk of turning aside. Those who are afraid may go back, … The Lord has marked out a path for me and I intend to follow it. We are ready to move." Forty-five proslavery men had responded to the Marshals' call and were entrenched on the north bank of Straight Creek, facing south at a place know as Fuller's Crossing, the place where Brown intended to cross the creek. The proslavery men were no more than 100 yards from where the old abolitionist stood next to the wagon loaded with the freedom seekers. Brown began to drive the wagon toward the creek, and all of the twenty-one Free State men fell in alongside. One volley of fire from the entrenched proslavery men could have wiped out the entire Free State force, including Brown, but as the wagon approached the crossing, everyone held their fire. As the first Free State man reached the ford, a commotion broke out across the creek. First one, and then several, proslavery men jumped up and ran to their horses, which were tied up not far away. Within seconds, the entire proslavery force was in "a wild panic." There was a mad rush for the horses, with men jumping into their saddles, spurring their mounts, and riding off as fast as they could make their animals go. One or two horses were spooked by the panic, and ran off with their would-be riders holding onto their tails while being drug across the prairie by the frightened animals. The Free State men crossed the creek without a shot ever being fired and found four men on the other side. They were asked, "Do you surrender?" They replied, "Yes, you may take us, …. We simply wanted to show you that there were some men…who were not afraid of you." This action became known as "The Battle of the Spurs," because they were the only weapons employed by the proslavery men. Brown took his charges into Nebraska, and helped them cross the Missouri River. He escorted them across Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, and on to Detroit, Michigan, where he watched them cross the Detroit River to freedom in Canada.(From: Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, Wikipedia website; California, Wikipedia website; Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, Wikipedia website; Fugitive Slave Act of 1793, Wikipedia website; Bushwhacker Museum Podcast Transcript, Kansas Humanities Council website; Kansas Historical Collections - The Battle of the Spurs and John Brown's Exit from Kansas, Kansas Historical Society website; and, Lane's Trail and the Underground Railway, Kansas Heritage Group website. Published 1/14.)  Back to top of page

February 14, 1889 - Christian Long disappears before breakfast - Christian Long was born on December 21, 1840, in Pennsylvania. He was later referred to as being a "German," so he must have been born into a German speaking family there. Sometime later he married a woman named Elizabeth, who was born June 28, 1845(1), in the German state of Hesse-Kassel. The couple was living in Illinois when their first child, Jerome, was born around 1865. Jerome was followed by Amos and Mary, born around 1867 and 1868, respectively. Sometime before Edward(2) was born in October of 1869, the family had relocated to Kansas and was living on a farm in Willow Springs Township in Douglas County, about seven miles west of Baldwin City. Christian and Elizabeth became active members of the mostly German community there, and they were founding members of the Willow Springs Evangelical Church(3) when it opened in 1872. By 1873, Long owned 80 acres about a mile north of the Franklin County line. The family continued to grow, with Adam being born around 1874, followed by Charles around 1875, John around 1876, Susan around 1877, Henry around 1881, and finally Christian around 1884. With such a large family to support, Long must have worked very hard on his farm. His older children undoubtedly helped out, but supporting such a large family could not have been easy. By 1885, Long had increased his land holdings to 160 acres, and was reported to have had his farm heavily mortgaged, not an unusual condition for farmers then or now. A farmer's life was always hard, but Long's burden increased significantly on August 7, 1887, when Elizabeth died, leaving him with ten children, seven under the age of 18. By the winter of 1888/89, Long was reported to have been having financial troubles, and was very worried about them. He may have been in danger of having the bank foreclose on his farm, which would have been a humiliating disaster. The grief he felt for his late wife would likely have made his hardships even more difficult to face. On the morning of Thursday, February 14, 1889, Long arose before the rest of his family and left the house. He did not come in when breakfast was called, and the children became concerned when he could not be located around the farmstead. A wider search was instituted, but nothing was found by the time it was halted that evening on account of darkness. The search was resumed again on Friday morning, but proved equally as fruitless as the one the day before had been. The searchers began again on Saturday morning, and sometime towards evening they came across an unused well on Long's farm. They investigated its depths, and finally located Long, dead at the bottom of the well. They retrieved his body, and one of them sent a telegram to Dr. Horton, the coroner, who lived in Lawrence, approximately twenty miles northeast of Long's farm. He called an inquest, which was held on the afternoon of Monday the 18th. After examining the body and hearing the testimony of witnesses, the jury found that Long had taken his own life by jumping into the well in a fit of temporary insanity. He was buried in the Willow Springs Evangelical Cemetery(4), alongside his wife Elizabeth. In 1900, the youngest son Christian was living with his uncle and aunt in Willow Springs Township, and there are indications that Amos, John, and Susan were living elsewhere in Kansas, but what eventually happened to the children that Long left behind is not known. One wonders if the date of Long's suicide is significant, February 14th, Valentine's Day. By the latter part of the 19th Century, it had become an important holiday in the United States, witnessed by the availability of mass-produced printed valentines since before the Civil War, and so was a part of American culture. With all the troubles Long was experiencing, the advent of a holiday with such a strong reminder of the loved one he had lost just eighteen months earlier may very well have sent him over the edge on that fateful day.

(1) According to her tombstone, she was 42 years, 1 month, and 10 days old when she died on August 7, 1887. Calculating back from that date results in a birth date of June 28, 1845.

(2) His name appears as Edwin in the 1870 census.

(3) Now known as the Worden United Methodist Church.

(4) Now known as the Worden Cemetery.

(From: Complete Tombstone Census of Douglas County, Kansas, Volume 2, by B. Jean Snedeger, Douglas County Genealogical Society, [Lawrence, Kansas], 1989, pp. 304 and 308; The Lawrence Gazette, v. 7, no. 338 (February 21, 1889), p. 2; 1870 U.S. Census, Willow Springs Township, Douglas County, Kansas, 6/21/1870; Landgraviate of Hesse-Kassel, Wikipedia website; Worden United Methodist Church, Worden United Methodist Church website; 1880 U.S. Census, Willow Springs Township, Douglas County, Kansas, 6/3/1880; Atlas of Douglas County Kansas, F.W. Beers and Co., New York, 1873, p. 23; Decennial census, Kansas 1885, Willow Springs Township, March 1885; The Lawrence Weekly Journal, v. 5, no. 8 (February 21, 1889) p. 3; Wichita Eagle, v. 10, no. 82 (February 20, 1889) p. 1; 1900 U.S. Census, Willow Springs Township, Douglas County, Kansas, 6/8/1900; and, Valentine's Day, Wikipedia website. Published 2/14.)  Back to top of page

March 14, 1894 - Fred Hill kills Patrick Henry Geelan over a White Cap letter - Patrick Henry Geelan was born on March 15, 1833, in Cavan County, Ulster, Ireland. He taught school there, before deciding to emigrate to the United States. Exactly when he left Ireland and came to America is not known, but in 1855, he arrived in Big Springs, a small community on the Oregon Trail in Lecompton Township, Douglas County, Kansas Territory, located about halfway between Lawrence and Topeka not far from the Shawnee County line. Because of his experience as a teacher in Ireland, when the Greenwood Valley School was built approximately 2 miles northeast of Big Springs, Geelan went to teach there. It is not known how long he taught at the school, but he eventually opened a store in Big Springs. On January 10, 1860, he married Sarah Salome Custard in Grover, a small community about 1 miles northeast of Greenwood Valley School, and 4 miles northwest of the town of Lecompton. Sarah, who apparently went by her middle name Salome, was born April 24, 1833, in Crawford County, Pennsylvania, the daughter of Robert Ward Custead(1) and Lydia O. Custead, nee Sitler. Patrick and Salome began a family, and their first child, a son named William, was born around 1862. Sometime during the early years of the Civil War, Geelan and other men from the Big Springs area organized an informal militia. The militiamen went to Lawrence on August 22, 1863, the day after William Clarke Quantrill and 400 of his Confederate guerillas sacked and burned the town. Then on August 31, 1863, possibly as a result of the raid on Lawrence, the Big Springs militia was formally organized as Company F of the Second Regiment of the Kansas State Militia, and Geelan was mustered in as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Company. Company F was then headquartered at Big Springs. The Geelan family grew again when a second son, Charles, was born to the couple in 1864. Geelan's Regiment was called into service that year to help counter the army under the command of Confederate general Sterling Price, who was leading an invasion of Missouri. Price was attempting to cross into Kansas and wreak havoc there. Geelan led his men in the Battle of the Big Blue(2) on October 22, 1864, in Jackson County, Missouri, when the Regiment, aided by the Topeka Battery of Artillery, repelled the Confederate forces under Price. The Confederates were defeated, and moved south into Kansas, eventually being mauled so badly in the Battle of Mine Creek that Price called off the invasion and retreated back to Arkansas. After the War, Geelan resumed his civilian activities. Another son, Daniel, was born around 1867. In addition to his store in Big Springs, Geelan must have owned land and farmed, as that is his occupation as recorded in the 1870 U.S. Census for Lecompton Township, taken on July 30th. Not long after the census was taken, a daughter, Anna, was born. She lived only a year, and died on August 8, 1871. She was buried in St. Peter's Cemetery near Big Springs(3). In spite of the tragedy, the Geelan's continued to have children, with a daughter, Maggie, being born on May 17, 1873, and finally Nettie(4), on March 26, 1876. Sometime in the early 1880s, Geelan was made deputy postmaster of Big Springs under postmaster Thomas S. Custard(5). One of Geelan's neighbors was a man named Daniel Mark Hill(6), who was known to the locals as Mark Hill. He was the head of a family later described as a "large, wealthy and influential element of the Big Springs population." Hill opposed Geelan's appointment as deputy postmaster, and a quarrel between the Geelans and the Hills began over this. Just what the trouble was, and why Hill opposed Geelan's appointment as deputy postmaster, is not clear, but it may have been rooted in partisan politics. There is evidence that the two men belonged to different political parties. Hill was a Republican, and there is strong evidence that Geelan was a Democrat. When Grover Cleveland took office in 1885 and became the first Democrat to hold the office of President of the United States since Andrew Johnson left office in 1869, Custard was removed as postmaster at Big Springs and Geelan was appointed in his place. At that time, postmaster positions were usually awarded as patronage by the party in power to loyal and trusted party members, so since Cleveland was a Democrat, there is all likelihood that Geelan was also a Democrat, and was awarded the postmaster position as patronage. Mark Hill might initially have been upset when a Democrat was made deputy postmaster under Thomas S. Custard, himself probably a Republican, but would have become even more incensed when that same Democrat later supplanted Custard as postmaster of Big Springs. This is borne out by a later report that "the strife [between Geelan and Hill] grew apace" when Geelan was appointed postmaster. Fredrick "Fred" Hill was one of Mark Hill's seven children. He was later described as "a peaceable boy who never did seek trouble, but who is given to spells or intervals of insanity. During these times he has been known to become violent and to tear his clothes. He has been considered so dangerous when these spells were upon him that no one dared to go near him." In 1887, Fred Hill and another man were charged with committing a disturbance at a school house meeting. Geelan was called as a witness at a grand jury investigation of the disturbance, and testified under protest. The case went to trial, but Geelan was not called as a witness. Fred Hill and the other man were acquitted. It is not known if his having testified before the grand jury improved or worsened the relationship between the two families, but whatever trouble Geelan was having with Hill, it was likely overshadowed by events in his personal life. On March 12, 1888, Geelan's wife Salome died, and was buried next to Anna in St. Peter's Cemetery. Then, just eight months later, Benjamin Harrison defeated Cleveland in the November presidential election. When Harrison, a Republican, took office in 1889, Geelan lost his position as postmaster, and was replaced by the former postmaster, Thomas S. Custard. On March 22, 1890, Geelan filed for a pension from the Unites States Government for his service during the Civil War with Company F. There is an indication on the record of the filing that he may have had some physical disability. Geelan apparently stayed on as an employee of the post office during Harrison's four year term, as a later report indicated that throughout the summer and fall of 1892, "the Hills frequently asked Assistant Postmaster Caldwell to recommend Geelan's removal from the post office." This unsuccessful attempt by the Hill family to get Geelan dismissed from his job would have done nothing to lessen the animosity between the two families. In the November 1892 election, Cleveland defeated Harrison, and when he took office again as President in 1893, Geelan was reappointed postmaster of Big Springs. This was likely to have aggravated the trouble between the two families even more. In early March of 1894, Geelan received an anonymous letter dated March 2, 1894. At the head of the letter were a skull and crossbones, followed by "We beg leave to inform you that your days are limited to a small number in that town. You will be given ten days to leave it. If you are there at that time you will be dealt with according to the laws of this organization. We look at this as doing the community in which you live a favor, as you are a rogue and a hard case." It ended with "This and last," and was signed "White Caps." Geelan had received a White Cap letter. The White Caps were participants in a vigilante movement that was first reported in Indiana, and that spread to many parts of the country through the latter part of the 19th Century. Local men would organize into secret committees that would come together periodically to whip or otherwise punished those they accused of being "wife beaters, drunkards, poor providers, immoral couples and individuals, lazy and shiftless men, and petty neighborhood thieves." Occasionally, the punishment resulted in the death of the target. They were, in effect, self-appointed moral police. The White Caps would frequently warn their intended targets with letters, telling them to get out of town, "or else," just as the one that Geelan received had done. They would wear masks or other disguised when they carried out their threats, and frequently white hoods or other white head coverings, thus the origin on their name. The White Caps were not part of the Ku Klux Klan, and attacked anyone they believed to be morally degenerate, white or black(7). Their actions came to be known as "whitecapping," and someone who was the recipient of their attention, like Geelan, was said to have been "whitecapped." There were undoubtedly individuals who had no connection to the movement that took advantage of its notoriety to send poison pen letters to people they did not like under the guise of being from the local White Caps. Whether this was the case with the letter that Geelan received is not known. Regardless of the source, Geelan believed that the White Cap letter he had received had been written by Fred Hill. The reason for Geelan believing that Fred was the author of the letter is unclear. Fred was later quoted as saying that he "took no part in the controversy" between the two families, but subsequent events cast serious doubt on this assertion. Early in the morning of March 14, 1894, Fred Hill came to Geelan's store in Big Springs. In front of several witnesses, Geelan accused Hill of having written the White Cap letter. Hill supposedly left the store in an angry mood and walked home. When he arrived, he went in, took up his Winchester rifle, and began to leave. His mother begged him not to go back to the store, but he left the house, telling his mother that he was taking the rifle to the blacksmith shop to get it repaired. Instead, he went straight back to Geelan's store, arriving there about 9:30 a.m. Hill's mother must not have believed him, as she followed after him at a distance and was a witness to what happened subsequently. Geelan's son William was in his father's store, sitting at the stove with a man named William Murphy. William Geelan looked out the window and saw Hill approaching. He told his father that Hill was coming with a gun. Geelan got a revolver, backed up to the corner of the store occupied by the post office furniture, and waited for Hill. When he arrived, Hill stepped up on the store's front porch, glanced through the glass in the door into the shop, and then moved to the window to the right of the door. Hill leveled the rifle at Geelan, reportedly shouted "You damned son of a bitch, maybe you want to settle this now," and then fired. Almost simultaneously, Geelan fired his pistol at Hill. Geelan's shot hit the mail box next to where Hill was standing, but the bullet from Hill's rifle went through Geelan's head, killing him instantly. Hill turned and crossed over to the blacksmith shop. He saw Bob Clymer, a friend of his, and asked him to saddle his horse and bring it to him down the street. Clymer did as he was asked. It was reported that as Clymer passed Geelan's store, William called out to him for assistance, but he continued on to bring the horse to Hill. He mounted the horse and rode off, heading directly to Lawrence. He arrived there about 2:00 p.m., and went straight to his brother-in-law, Frank McHale, "the rising young criminal lawyer." McHale advised Hill to turn himself in to the authorities, which he promptly did. As soon as William had determined that his father was dead and that he could do nothing for him, he hopped on a horse and himself rode rapidly to Lawrence. He went to the authorities there and filed a complaint against Hill for the first degree murder of his father. Hill was put in jail pending the coroner's inquest. McHale, Hill's lawyer, claimed that Hill was out hunting, and when he came into Big Springs, he met Geelan, who had picked a fight with him, requiring Hill to shoot in self-defense. Deputy Sheriff Pryor was sent to Geelan's store to collect evidence. He returned to Lawrence around 11:00 p.m. with Clymer, who had been arrested by the local constable for helping Hill leave town after the shooting. On the day after the shooting, March 15th, "Squire" Stone impaneled a coroner's jury that found that "Patrick H. Geelan came to his death by a gunshot wound from a rifle in the hands of Fred Hill." Soon after their verdict, Justice of the Peace John Charlton arraigned Hill without bail on a charge of first degree murder in the death of Geelan. There was speculation that his mother might have to testify, as she had been a witness to the shooting. Mark Hill came into town later in the day, but when asked about Fred, all he would say was that "his son had at times betrayed symptoms of insanity." A reporter from the Lawrence Gazette visited Hill in jail, reporting that when he arrived, Hill had "just finished a dainty breakfast sent in to him by his relatives." The reporter continued that Hill "is a handsome, intelligent looking, smooth-faced youth of 21, slight [illegible], and in appearance the least like a murderer, very fond of music and a good performer on the violin." Geelan was a popular man, and the authorities had heard talk that some citizens might take the law into their own hands and try to lynch Hill, so being concerned for his safety, on March 16th they temporarily transferred him to the jail in Ottawa, Kansas, approximately 25 miles south of Lawrence. Geelan was buried that same day, next to his wife in St. Peter's Cemetery. Hill was returned to town on March 18th, and at about 10:40 a.m. on March 22nd, was brought "between two officers" before Justice Charlton for a preliminary hearing. "He was closely handcuffed and was weeping hysterically. He kept the two officers busy for a time to prevent him from doing himself harm after his handcuffs were removed, but soon quieted down and with bowed head seemed totally oblivious of his surroundings." Fred Hill's murder case was finally called for trial in front of District Court Judge Alfred Washburn Benson on May 7, 1894. The prosecution was to be conducted by County Attorney Samuel Douglas Bishop and A.C. Mitchel, and the defense by George J. Baker and Hill's brother-in-law Frank McHale. The trial was continued for two days, and set to start on the 9th. In the trial, the prosecution contended that Hill's actions that day showed he intended to kill Geelan, and so had committed first degree murder. They rested on the 11th, and the defense began their case on the 12th. They contended that Hill's parentage, surroundings, education, and good character would be shown. He had been in poor health the preceding few years and was under treatment for nervous troubles. Hill supposedly visited the post office in Big Springs many times each day, and that he would frequently play his violin there. In the defense's version of the events on the day of the shooting, Geelan had threatened Hill with the penitentiary over the White Cap letter. After Hill had left Geelan's store and gone home, he got his rifle, which he was known to carry around, and was walking to a field where his father was working(8). He happened to pass Geelan's store on the way, and as he did, he saw a flash or heard a loud report, he was not sure which. Hill turned and saw that his life was threatened by the revolver Geelan was pointing at him. He feared for his life and fired the fatal shot in self-defense. He immediately came to Lawrence to turn himself in to the authorities as any innocent man would do. The case went to the jury about 11:30 a.m. on May 17th. After eight hours of deliberation, they came back at 7:30 p.m. with a verdict of guilty of second degree manslaughter. It is not known if Hill's family being a "large, wealthy and influential element of the Big Springs population" or because he had "betrayed symptoms of insanity" had any influence on him being convicted of a much lesser charge than first-degree murder. The concern for Hill's safety returned, and he was taken to the Wyandotte County, Kansas, jail on the 19th for safekeeping. In an article in the Kansas City Times, for Sunday, May 20, 1894, Hill, mistakenly referred to in the newspaper as the "Blue Springs Murderer," was reportedly brought there because "a plot to lynch the prisoner was discovered." He had been allowed to bring his violin along, but the jailer would not let him have it with him in his cell. He "pleaded for permission to retain the violin, saying that he would give the boys inside a sacred concert today." The jailer refused his request. An article in The Daily World, published in Lawrence, reported that "there never was the slightest danger of lynching." Hill was returned to Lawrence on Monday the 21st, and Judge Benson sentenced him to four years and six months at hard labor in the Kansas State Penitentiary. He could have been sentenced to up to five years, but it was reported that "the sentence was lightened on account of the former good character of the prisoner and his youth." Hill went off to prison. Geelan's son William married Mamie Schott, remained in Douglas County, and worked for the railroad. Charles stayed in Douglas County and fell on hard times in his old age, first living with his sister Nettie and her husband, and then as a resident at the Douglas County Poor Farm. He was there when the main residence building was destroyed by fire on April 13, 1944. Although eight of the thirty-four elderly residents died in the blaze, Charles managed to escape, but lived for only one year more. Daniel was appointed postmaster of Big Springs after his father's death, and served until 1898. He married a woman named Mary, eventually moving to Kansas City, Kansas, and worked there as a carpenter. Maggie married Oliver W. Chambers, and moved with him to his family farm in Wilson County Kansas. Nettie married August Noe, also a farmer, and remained in Douglas County. Fred Hill served out his prison term and then left Kansas, joining the estimated 100,000 people who went to the Klondike during the 1896-1899 gold rush to Canada's Yukon Territory. What success he had there or what his eventual fate was is unknown.

(1) Apparently, the parents changed the family name from Custead for their offspring, as all of their seven children had Custard as their last name.

(2) Also known as the Battle of Byram's Ford, it was part of the larger Battle of Westport.

(3) There are two headstones in the Geelan family plot in St. Peter's Cemetery with the names of young girls who died in 1871. One is inscribed Anna, dau. of P.H. & S.S. Geelan, died August 13, 1871, 1 yr. old. It is broken in two pieces and is lying on the ground against the headstone for Charles. The other one is inscribed Annie, 1869-1871, is of higher quality, is intact, and is upright. Is it possible that the Geelans would have had two daughters with so similar names, one born in 1869 who died in 1871, and the other who was one year old when she also died in 1871? It is possible, as they might have been twins, but the different nature and condition of the two headstones makes this unlikely. What is likely is that there was only one daughter, known variously as Anna and Annie, who was born in 1869. She died in 1871 before her second birthday, and her headstone was inscribed "Anna." At some time later, perhaps when her mother died, a replacement headstone was erected with "Annie" inscribed on it, and the earlier one was laid alongside it. Sometime after Charles' death, the broken one would have been moved to its current location.

(4) No record has been found that names Patrick and Salome's second daughter as Nettie, but it can be deduced by utilizing the 1940 U.S. Census for Lecompton Township. In it, a woman named Nettie M. Noe is recorded as the wife of August Noe. Residing in the same household is a man named Charles H. Geelan, whose age is listed as 76 and his relationship to the head of the household, August Noe, is brother-in-law. Figuring backward, a 76 year old man in 1940 would have been born around 1864, the same as was Patrick and Salome's son Charles. It is almost a 100 per cent certainty that the Charles Geelan, who was the right age and living in the same township as Patrick and Salome had been, is their son. Since August Noe was recorded as Charles' brother-in-law, then August's wife Nettie is Charles' sister, and so was Patrick and Salome's daughter.

(5) There is no indication whether Thomas S. Custard and Geelan's wife Salome, whose maiden name was also Custard, were related.

(6) Mark Hill was born on August 4, 1836, in Bedford County, Pennsylvania. He moved to Iowa in 1862, and first came to Kansas in 1863, staying only a few months before going back to Iowa. In 1867 he came back to Kansas, settling his family in Anderson County. In 1869, they moved to Lecompton Township, where he began farming. In 1879, he moved to Jefferson County, Kansas, and worked as a foreman on a large farm there. In 1883, he moved back to Lecompton Township and bought farm land there.

(7) As time passed and the movement spread to the south, it became more like the Klan, targeting blacks for "punishment." The societies gradually died out, but remained active in some parts of the country well into the first decade of the 20th Century.

(8) This differs from the version of the story that Hill's lawyer told immediately after the shooting, when he said that Hill had his rifle that day because he had been out hunting.

(From: Patrick Henry Geelan, website; Big Springs, Bald Eagle, v. 19, no. 3 (Fall 1993), pp. 2-4; Sarah Salome/Custard, FamilySearch website; Patrick Henry Geelan, website; Muster Roll, Company F, Second Regiment, Kansas State Militia, Kansas Muster rolls, Kansas State Militia, Kansas. Adjutant General's Office, volume 11, p. 91 (98), Kansas Memory website; Battle of the Blue, Kansas Memory website; Patrick H. Geelan, 2nd Lieutenant, Company F (Big Springs), Second Regiment of the Kansas State Militia, as of 10 October, 1864, Roster, The Second Kansas State Militia and the Battle of the Blue website; Geelan, Patrick H., 1870 U.S. Census, Lecompton, Douglas County, Kansas, 7/30/1870; Complete Tombstone Census of Douglas County, Kansas, Volume 2, by B. Jean Snedeger, Douglas County Genealogical Society, [Lawrence, Kansas], 1989, pp. 105, 375, and 410; Noe, August G., 1940 U.S. Census, Lecompton, Douglas County, Kansas, 4/18/1940; Nettie M. Noe, Find A Grave website; Oliver W. Chambers, History of Neosho and Wilson Counties, Kansas, Monitor Printing Co., Fort Scott, Kansas, 1902, pp. 520-521; The Lawrence Gazette, v. 12, no. 603 (March 22, 1894), pp. 1-2 (in with March 15 issue); Judge John Charlton, Portrait and Biographical Record of Leavenworth, Douglas and Franklin Counties, Kansas, Chapman Publishing Company, Chicago, 1899, pp. 192-193; David Mark Hill, Portrait and Biographical Record of Leavenworth, Douglas and Franklin Counties, Kansas, Chapman Publishing Company, Chicago, 1899, pp. 249-250; Patrick H Geelan, "United States General Index to Pension Files, 1861-1934", Familysearch website; A Primitive Method of Enforcing the Law: Vigilantism as a Response to Bank Crimes in Indiana, 1925-1933, Indiana Magazine of History, No. 102 (September 2006), pp 187-219; Whitecapping, Wikipedia website; The Daily World, v. 3, no. 13 (March 15, 1894), p. 4; The Daily World, v. 3, no. 17 (March 20, 1894), p. 4; The Daily World, v. 3, no. 14 (March 16, 1894), p. 4; The Daily World, v. 3, no. 59 (May 8, 1894), p. 4; The Daily World, v. 3, no. 64 (May 13, 1894), p. 4; The Daily World, v. 3, no. 68 (May 18, 1894), p. 5; Fred Hill, the Blue Springs Murderer, brought here for safety, Kansas Genealogy Trails website; The Daily World, v. 3, no. 71 (May 22, 1894), p. 4; The Lawrence Gazette, v. 12, no. 612 (May 24, 1894), p. 2; William G. Geelan, Familysearch website; Lawrence Journal-World, v.. 88, no. 89 (April 13, 1944), p.1; and, Geelan, Daniel A., 1910 U.S. Census, Wyandotte County, Kansas, 4/28/1910. Published 3/14.)  Back to top of page

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